The plant-based industry is growing increasingly mainstream and for good reason – it’s good for our health as well as the environment.
Consuming dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt has become a norm as these are some of the most commonly found ingredients in dishes all over the world, but not everyone can or should consume dairy due to health reasons.
For those unsure of how to adopt a vegan lifestyle, they can start by giving up dairy for starters.
Reasons to switch to plant-based milk
1. Lactose intolerance
More than 95% of Malaysians are lactose intolerant to some extent. Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder characterised by the inability to digest lactose which is the main carbohydrate found in dairy products.
The symptoms that develop as a result of this disorder include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, gas and nausea. The amount of lactose that a lactose intolerant individual can consume before experiencing these symptoms varies.
Although lactose intolerance is nowhere nearly as lethal as other digestive disorders, consuming dairy products has become such a norm that individuals suffer these symptoms frequently in order to “fit in”, despite it greatly impacting their quality of life.
2. Less for more
Animal-based milk production is highly destructive to the environment.
Producing 200 ml of animal-based milk every day for a year requires 650 square metres of land and roughly 120 litres of water. Although these statistics vary for each source, plant-based milks consume far fewer quantities of the said resources to produce the same 200 ml of milk.
3. Save the cows
In the name of milk production and processing, industrialised livestock are impregnated yearly. After giving birth, their calves and kids are separated from them almost immediately.
On the other hand, because plant-based milk is derived from plants, no sentient being is harmed in any way.
4. Each source is unique
It is true that compared to dairy milk, plant-based milks contain less protein and calcium and have to be enriched or fortified with these nutrients artificially.
However, they also contain less saturated or “unhealthy” fat and instead, more unsaturated or “healthy” fat, which plays a significant role in reducing the risk of developing heart diseases.
In addition, each source has a varying nutritional content, thus creating a wider variety of options to meet each individual’s dietary needs.
The most popular types of plant-based milk
1. Almond milk
Almond milk is the most popular plant-based milk. It has a nutty flavour, and its texture is similar to that of regular milk. But compared to cow’s milk, almond milk is naturally rich in several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin E.
However, those prone to kidney stones should not consume almond milk in excessive amounts because of its calcium oxalate content, which is generally higher in home-made almond milk.
Almond milk also low in calories and protein, and as it is usually produced by straining skinless almonds, much of its fibre and antioxidants have been removed.
2. Oat milk
Oat milk is good for those with allergies or intolerances because it’s naturally free of lactose, nuts and soy, but not suitable for people with gluten intolerance, celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Compared to cow’s milk, oat milk contains less protein but more calories, carbohydrates and fibre especially beta-glucan, which can bind to cholesterol and reduce its absorption.
As such, beta-glucan may help lower blood cholesterol levels and, like unsaturated fats, help in the prevention of heart problems.
However, similar to almond milk, oat milk is made from strained oats, so it’s lacking a lot of the nutrients found in an ordinary bowl of oats.
3. Soy milk
Soy milk is the most common substitute for dairy milk. It has a light texture and sweet flavour, and the same protein content as cow’s milk. Hence, it has the most protein content among all plant-based milks.
Although plant-based milks have high levels of compounds that can block the absorption of calcium, studies have shown that calcium absorption of soy milk is similar to that of cow’s milk despite the presence of these compounds – if enriched with calcium carbonate, that is.
Soy milk also contains isoflavones, which may have anticancer effects.
However, cow’s milk contains higher amounts of the essential amino acids (amino acids that cannot be produced by the human body) known as leucine, lysine, methionine and valine.
Soy allergy is also very common. As such, young children with cow milk protein allergy should also avoid drinking soy milk.
The advantages of switching to plant-based milks (and other plant-based products for that matter) far outweigh those of dairy milk, especially now during the “hot” global issue known as climate crisis.
Although plant-based milks are a watered-down and much less concentrated source of nutrients compared to their original source, most brands contain added vitamins and minerals to make up for this loss as well as to compete with the nutrition content of dairy milk.
For example, enriched almond, oat and soy milk is fortified with vitamin D and calcium which, with regular consumption, support bone health and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Be sure to consult with your physician if you’re unsure which milks are safe for you to consume. Care must also be taken not to consume milks that have been sweetened artificially or contain added sugars as these may spike blood sugar levels.